Sharon Osbourne: Tough and tender

Not since the late Queen Mother suffered having a fishbone stuck in her throat has the nation been racked with such concern. The news that burglars had broken into Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne's Buckinghamshire country residence and made off with jewellery worth £1m touched hearts across Britain. Hankies were raised as Sharon, on the verge of tears herself, explained at a press conference that items of rare provenance and exquisite taste, including a 24-carat sapphire called the "Swimming Pool", had been taken.

Not since the late Queen Mother suffered having a fishbone stuck in her throat has the nation been racked with such concern. The news that burglars had broken into Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne's Buckinghamshire country residence and made off with jewellery worth £1m touched hearts across Britain. Hankies were raised as Sharon, on the verge of tears herself, explained at a press conference that items of rare provenance and exquisite taste, including a 24-carat sapphire called the "Swimming Pool", had been taken.

Pride swelled in the viewers' breasts as details emerged of how Ozzy had discovered one of the intruders in his wife's inner sanctum, her dressing room, no less, and despite being unclothed, and armed with nothing other than his own rather frightening visage, he had given chase, and held the miscreant in a headlock until he allowed him to jump 30 feet from a window and make his escape.

That Ozzy Osbourne, a man famed for creating a new boundary in rock star excess, biting the heads off bats on stage, and once snorting a line of ants he had mistaken for cocaine, should now be considered a harmless, even lovable, eccentric, is largely due to his wife. The Osbournes, the fly-on-the-wall reality show about the family that ran for three series on MTV, showed her as the glue that kept together a weird collection of individuals who often seemed to have little binding them apart from the fact that they all happened to be related to each other. Surrounded by two self-obsessed and rather troubled teenagers and a husband who wandered around mumbling incoherently to himself, Sharon Osbourne seemed calm amid the chaos, the one relatively stable person on the show.

Now as a judge on The X Factor, she has shown herself to be motherly and kind to the acts she trained, and delighted audiences by pouring a glass of water over her fellow judge, the obnoxious Simon Cowell. With appearances on charity trailers and Parkinson, she has emerged as a charmed mix of the soft and the resilient, defiantly standing up for her acts on The X Factor and lavishing them with care off stage. "You're part of the Osbournes now," she would tell them.

The acts concerned could be forgiven for blenching at the offer. And until recently, Sharon herself would probably have conceded that being part of her family was not always an unalloyed joy. For years, family, for her, meant being in the shadow of two men - her husband, and her father, Don Arden. Whatever antics Ozzy may have got up to - and they do include his once trying to strangle Sharon during a vodka binge - they are nothing compared to the legends attached to Arden, whose name still strikes fear into former associates today.

The son of a piece worker in a Manchester raincoat factory, Harry Levy, as he was then called (he changed his name when he was 18), was a teenage singer and comedian who turned to music promotion in the 1950s, organising tours for Little Richard, Sam Cooke and Gene Vincent. Later he was to be involved with The Small Faces, Black Sabbath and Electric Light Orchestra. Ruthless methods were part of his modus operandi from the start, with his heavies threatening promoters with hammers. "All I can say about him," said one rock manager, "is that he kept bullets in his desk, and you didn't mess with him."

In the mid 1960s Arden became convinced that another impresario, Robert Stigwood, was trying to take one of his acts away from him. So he and a team of goons arrived at Stigwood's office and locked the doors behind them. "I lifted him out of his chair and stuck his head over the balcony," Arden said later. "I said: 'You see that street down there? That's where you're going the next time you fuck with me.'"

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sharon grew up desiring her father's approval. She also had a near non-existent relationship with her mother, Hope. "If I ever hurt myself as a child," she has said, "I'd never run to her for a hug to make it better. It's very hard to admit, but I simply didn't like her. There was never that bond between us." Time did not bring any rapprochement between them.

"I called her when I had my first baby and begged her to come and help because I didn't know what I should do," Sharon explained when asked about her mother another time. "She told me to go fuck myself. I really resented my mother. She didn't take care of me in the way that I wanted. In fact, she was an old bat." When Hope died five years ago, she had still never seen Sharon's three children, Aimee, Jack and Kelly.

After going to the Italia Conti stage school near Guildford, Sharon started working for her father as a road manager while still in her teens. Among her father's acts was Ozzy Osbourne, who split from Black Sabbath in 1980 and then signed to Arden's Jet record label. They began dating, and married in 1982, with Sharon taking over Ozzy's management.

This brought about a serious rift with her father, whom Sharon accused of not paying artists their proper dues. "He didn't believe in giving artists their fair share," she's said. "It was 1 per cent to the artist and 99 per cent to Dad. I tried to explain that Ozzy was my husband, the man I loved. I wasn't about to withhold money that was rightfully his."

Sharon moved Ozzy to another record label; her father was furious. When she went to visit her parents, Sharon was attacked by her father's dogs and she lost a baby she was carrying. For the next 20 years she was estranged from Arden, and told her children that their grandfather was dead. During this time, however, as the music business kept both of them in Los Angeles, they occasionally ran into each other, once literally, when Sharon tried to run her father down in the street. Another time when she came across him, her children were with her. The verbal onslaught she then launched on Don puzzled the young Osbournes. "Sharon had told them that Don had died in the war," recalled Ozzy. "The kids asked: 'Who are you shouting at?' She said: 'Tony Curtis.'"

Father and daughter were reconciled three years ago when Sharon's brother David called to say that Don had Alzheimer's. He then went on to appear in episodes of The Osbournes.

Sharon admits to having inherited her father's pugilistic tendencies. Managers or music business types who have crossed her have found themselves kicked down stairs, headbutted or attacked in more sensitive parts of the body. This has stood her in good stead in the music business.

With Ozzy, however, she seems to have been understanding to a fault. In the 1980s, for instance, she was ready to forgive her husband's indiscretions with groupies, one of whom, it's said, he brought to his hotel bed having forgotten that Sharon was already there. "What are you going to do when you're away from home and there are girls knocking at your door?" she says. "But Ozzy wouldn't do it now, because he'd get a frying pan around the head."

She did think about leaving him after the throttling incident in 1989, but after he went to a rehabilitation clinic she forgave him, deciding that she was still happier with him than not. In the past few years, they have both faced death - he from a quad bike accident that left him in a coma, her from colorectal cancer ("After more prodding and poking than I've had in a lifetime," she said, "they had to find the damn cancer in my backside") - and appear to be closer than ever. Ozzy is generous in his praise for her, betraying no hint of jealousy that she has now become the bigger star. She, in return, says: "Ozzy saved me and I saved him. He saved me from ending up a liar, a thief, a cheat - in other words, doing business the way my father did. I saved Ozzy from ending up in the corner of some bar telling people he once did Top of the Pops."

If the Sharon Osbourne of today is a far less angry and calmer woman than in the past, she is also a far slimmer one. Sharon has spent £120,000 on surgery, from having her stomach "banded" and her face, breasts, buttocks and legs lifted, to having liposuction on her neck and her stomach tucked. Now around eight and half stone, at her heaviest she was 16 stone. Once she went to a meeting and got stuck in a chair. "It took three men to pull me out," she said. But Ozzy, she says, has always loved her whatever size she was.

Perhaps it's because Sharon Osbourne has struggled with problems, like cancer, weight gain and children going off the rails, to which anyone can relate, that her wealth (she and Ozzy are estimated to be worth £100m) has not made her seem remote. Perhaps it's also her down-to-earth responses on The X Factor, or at the press conference after the recent burglary. "I'm sure a lot of people will look at us and say, 'Well, they have got more, they can buy it again, who really gives a damn?'" she said. "But we worked for everything, and when somebody comes and takes what's yours, it pisses me off big time."

Maybe it's because there is a softness to her that even her gruesome father has demonstrated on the quiet. A year ago, with no fanfare - quite the opposite - Don Arden bailed out the Manchester synagogue where he had sung in the choir as a boy. Asked about The Osbournes, the synagogue's administrator, Eileen Somers, who is also Arden's sister, said: "When Sharon came over to visit, she said, 'I can't bring my meshugenah husband over here.' She must think people don't swear in Manchester." Her aunt credits Sharon with quietening Ozzy down.

Wife of the wild man of rock to making the top five in a survey of women who are good role models to other mothers - Sharon Osbourne has had quite a journey in the past 25 years. But so long as she continues making comments like the following, about Prince Harry: "He's got a very hard ass. You can tell he does a lot of riding" and winning over more admirers with her television appearances, then, if she is pricked, the nation will indeed hurt. And, possibly, care rather more about any misfortunes that befall her than tales about fishbones troubling the royal oesophagus.

A LIFE IN BRIEF

Born: 9 October 1952 to Don and Hope Arden in London.

Family: Married to Ozzy Osbourne in 1982; three children: Aimee, 21; Kelly, 20; and Jack, 19.

Education: Italia Conti Stage School, Surrey.

Career: Began work in her father's music promotion business, then formed her own company, Sharon Osbourne Management. She has also been a concert producer, chat-show host and judge on the pop talent show The X-Factor. She appeared in the TV reality series The Osbournes.

She says...: "There's nothing like an English weirdo. We have the best nutters in the world."

They say...: "I've seen my wife take down men bigger than Goliath. With her mouth." - Ozzy Osbourne

"First, she says I rig The X-Factor, then I don't know talent, then I chase all the young girls. Now, I'm gay. If a flood wipes out Britain next week, she'll blame me for that as well." - Simon Cowell

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